By Shirley Halperin and Lesley Goldberg
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – When “Glee” co-creator Ryan Murphy set out to cast a new role for the show’s third season via the upcoming Oxygen reality spinoff, “The Glee Project,” the plan was to employ only one.
But chances are good that more than just the winner of the competition series will go on to careers in showbiz, perhaps even appearing on the Fox hit.
“We were like, ‘You really have something and even though you’re not right for this show, we’re going to make sure you get something in the entertainment industry because you have a gift that the world should see,” Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter.
The winner of Oxygen’s 10-episode series, which premieres June 12, earns a seven-episode Season 3 guest arc and will be selected by a team of “Glee” experts including choreographer Zach Woodlee, casting director Robert Ulrich and Murphy, who executive produces the competition series with Dante Di Loreto.
“I do think that all 12 of these kids could not only be on ‘Glee’ but they will go on to do other things,” Ulrich told THR. “We will see them all around whether it be in music or in acting, stage or film and theater. I’m hoping that we see more than just the winner on ‘Glee.’”
The project has been a long time coming and almost had a different home: Fox first announced plans for the talent search competition in January 2010 with a casting call that included video submissions through its News Corp.-owned MySpace, only to scrap the idea in June citing Murphy’s schedule. Oxygen jumped in a week later to revive it after picking up “Glee” in a rich syndication deal. Murphy signed on in January, with Embassy Row exec producers Michael Davies and Shauna Minoprio.
Murphy told THR that finding two or three kids for “Glee” typically requires a marathon casting session — which in the past has netted such new series regulars as Chord Overstreet (Sam) and Darren Criss (Blaine).
For “Project,” Ulrich and company screened more than 40,000 actors in an “expanded casting process” with an initial focus on singing, as it is when he casts for “Glee.”
“It gives people a glimpse into this world as well as a boot camp for actors in showing the “Glee” fans how people prepare, rehearse and record,” he said, noting that it ultimately became about being able to sing, act and dance.
“When I’m casting small parts, I’m always looking for people who can handle much more,” said Ulrich, noting that Kent Avenido’s character on “Glee,” Sheets and Things clerk Howard, had a line or two in the pilot and was singing two episodes later. “More than anything I’ve ever worked on, ‘Glee’ is an example of where they may end up doing something much bigger than what they initially had signed on to do.”
He cited Heather Morris (Brittany) as an example of the challenges in casting the show as the former backup dancer went from a background player with few lines to a breakout star who sings and is part of the “Glee” concert tour.
With “Project,” there won’t be any uncertainty — as there was on whether Avenido could sing (he could) — of the actors’ skill sets. All of the final 12 contestants were taken into a recording studio and danced with Woodlee.
“All the initial auditions were just about singing, however, it was always about being accessible, being able to fit into the ‘Glee’ world and having that thing you can’t really put into words,” Ulrich said. “Once the show started and they were competing, then they were asked to dance.”
Viewers got an early glimpse Saturday when Oxygen premiered “Project”‘s first video — a cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
Said Murphy: “I know more about these kids than I did about our original ones. It’s a huge prize — you go from anonymity to you get a career.”
(Editing by Chris Michaud)